Nov. 14, 2004
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - There weren't many guarantees in the 2004 Big Ten Conference Men's Soccer Championship up until Sunday's (Nov. 14) tournament championship game. The one thing that was assured in the finale between the third seed Northwestern and the fifth seed Michigan State was that one of the teams was going home with their first Big Ten Championship in school history.
After 28 years at Michigan State and in his 15th appearance in the Big Ten Championship, head coach Joe Baum finally has his conference title after the Spartans defeated the Wildcats 1-0 here Sunday, at Varsity Field on the campus of the University of Michigan. With the victory, the Spartans earn the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament which starts on Friday (Nov. 19) and improve their record to 12-6-1 this season. Northwestern now will wait to see if it earns an at-large bid into this year's NCAA tournament after finishing its season at 14-5-2.
For the record, Baum's Spartans were making their first appearance in the championship game since 2001 when they lost to Indiana 2-0 in the finale. Overall it was MSU's third championship game appearance where it held a 0-2 record. Northwestern was playing on the Sunday of championship weekend for the first time in school history after it defeated Michigan 5-0 in the semifinals on Friday (Nov. 12).
In the two team's regular season match up, Michigan State claimed at 1-0 victory over Northwestern in East Lansing. In that match, junior midfielder Ryan McMahen tallied the lone MSU goal. McMahen has also been a force in this year's championship; recording five points on two goals and an assist in the Spartans 1-0 first round win over Wisconsin and their 2-1 semifinal win over Indiana. However, he was held quiet in today's championship game.
The Wildcats had the first scoring attempt of the match in the 10th minute of play. Sophomore forward Brad North - already with two goals in the Big Ten Championship - launched a shot at point-blank range; however, Spartan goalkeeper Jason Tillman was able to make a difficult save to keep the Wildcats off the board.
The rest of the first half was dominated by both teams equally. The Wildcats appeared to hold an edge for most of the half, getting off five overall shots including three on goal. Michigan State dominated the ending minutes of the opening stanza, letting off eight shots overall with many coming in the final ten minutes of the first half. The Spartans tallied three shots on goal that were all saved by Northwestern sophomore goalie Justin Pines.
In the second half though, it would be a miscue by Pines that would lead to the first goal of the match. Freshman defender Rauwshan McKenzie took a shot at the net that went past Pines and rolled near the net. Senior forward Justin Gruber was there and put the ball into the open net for the goal. The tally came with 12:37 gone in the second half and put the Spartans up 1-0.
The Spartans came close to adding an insurance goal with three minutes remaining in regulation. Freshman defender Kenzo Webster broke away from the Wildcats defense and was one-on-one with Pines. This time the NU net minder would have none of it and stopped Kenzo's shot in its tracks to keep the Wildcats within one.
Just one minute later, Northwestern had its best chance to tie the game on a shot off the head of sophomore forward Brad North. The ball hit off the crossbar and went out of bounds to preserve the lead and an eventual MSU triumph 1-0.
In addition to helping their team earn this year's championship trophy, Ryan McMahen and Jason Tillman were also honored with the offensive and defensive player of the championship honors, respectively. In addition McMahen and Tillman were also tabbed to the 2004 all-championship team. Joining them as all-championship selections are Drew Moor (Indiana), Danny O'Rourke (Indiana), Knox Cameron (Michigan), Mychal Turpin (Michigan), Gerardo Alvarez (Northwestern), Sammy Semwangu (Northwestern), Dustin Kirby (Ohio State), David Walters (Penn State) and Noah Goerlitz (Wisconsin).